When I was a small child, I would lie in the hallway with Jinx, my white-and-black English cocker spaniel. I would rest my hand on his stomach and my head close to his snout and try to mimic his breathing. His breath was always faster and shallower than mine.
For as long as I can remember, I have had an intense awareness of breath. At 8 years old, I was learning how to ride Excalibur, my horse, bareback. I noticed that if I held my breath and gripped her tight with my legs, it would not be long until I would either be grasping for Cali’s mane for balance or I would be sliding down her torso to the ground. If I breathed steadily and rhythmically, I would be able to balance effortlessly in a trot, canter, and while jumping over fences. When I realized this secret, I quickly became a better rider.
As a teenager I was obsessed with the writings of Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King, and I also often saw spirits in the old houses of my friends. I loved to the adrenaline rush of being scared. I realized when I was scared my breath would move faster in my body. The quicker my breath, the more my thoughts were panicked and irrational. In sports, I found I would sometimes hold my thoughts in concentration, but then I found that if I held my breath, my concentration on the task at hand would waiver and I would be stuck on images of failure.
Later in life, I realized I could calm and focus aggressive and frightened animals by being conscious of my breathing. Scared animals would relax in my arms, and aggressive dogs would await my next command. They too would start to breathe more rhythmically and in turn naturally begin to do their body-language calming signals of licking and yawning. I also realized that if I allowed my breath to be fast, or if I held my breath, the animals’ fear and aggression would escalate. They too would then hold their breath and panic.
I ask my animals now, “What do you understand about breath?”
Here are their answers:
Makia, my all-white cat, says, “When I concentrate on my breath, I have less anger toward others that annoy me. I also feel more connected to the flow of the universe. I make better decisions.”
Serafina, my gray cat, says, “If I concentrate on breathing when I have pain, I feel better. I also sleep better if I breathe well.”
Stormy, my Aussie dog, says, “When I breathe softly, I feel like I have greater insight into my life and the lives of others. I also feel healthier.”
Luca, my poodle, says, “If I breathe rhythmically, I can find my ball faster. If I hold my breath, it could be right in front of me, and I don’t see it or smell it. I think now about barking and breathing. Barking is not breathing steady. When I bark, my breathing changes, and I often forget why I am barking.”
Bean, my bunny, says, “The faster I breathe the more fear I have, and it is easier to panic and make bad decisions. I breathe perfectly when I am eating parsley. Chewing, breathing, and thinking about my good life is when I am the happiest.”
Joey, my cat in heaven, says, “There is breath here in heaven. It is what creates the tides and the rise and fall of the sun and moon. The more beings that breathe well on earth, the healthier the earth is. Breath is that powerful. Breathing creates consciousness. Consciousness creates right action. Right action creates a healthier space for all.”
Maia, my wolf dog in heaven, says, “It is up to every individual to take advantage of the power of breath. It can change your life for the better. Breath is what threads all positivity together. It is a great simple truth.”